The Effects of Delay on Eyewitness Identification Accuracy: Should We Be Concerned?

Authored by: Jennifer E. Dysart , R. C. L. Lindsay

Handbook of Eyewitness Psychology

Print publication date:  October  2006
Online publication date:  May  2014

Print ISBN: 9780805881073
eBook ISBN: 9781315805535
Adobe ISBN: 9781317777830


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The current chapter discusses the research literature on the effects of delay on eyewitness identification accuracy. Delay, as it is defined in this chapter, is the amount of time that elapses between encoding (seeing) of the original event (the crime) and the identification attempt from a line-up, show-up, or mug shots. We begin with a discussion of why the delay issue is legally important. Next we describe the various methods that have been used to measure the impact of delay. The delay research then is discussed from the perspective of the methods used: archival evidence, studies in which delay was manipulated, and studies in which delay varied haphazardly. After discussing the eyewitness literature, we provide a brief discussion of other research on delay in regard to memory for faces but conclude that it is difficult to generalize from that research to the eyewitness situation. After a discussion of future research that is desperately needed on this topic, we conclude that it is risky to assume that we currently know what impact delay actually has on the accuracy of eyewitness identification.

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